Car-Free Households in San Francisco Above 30 Percent

According to the new San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency 2010 Transportation Fact Sheet, the number of car-free households increased. Last year [pdf], data show that 29.8 percent of households had no car, a number than climbed to 30.3 percent this year [pdf]. Oddly, it seems the shift came mostly from households with one car, as some migrated to car-lessness, while others increased the numbers of cars in their households. In real numbers, there was only a slight uptick in households with no cars, or nearly 2,000. About 1,000 more households had two cars or more, while 4,000 more had at least three cars.

What factors do you think led to these numbers? Was it car-share, more biking, more walking, more telecommuting, higher unemployment? Remember to take into account that these numbers are from the 2008 and 2009 census data, respectively.

Tell me what you think in the comments. How do you think this will change next year?

H/T Jason Henderson, SF State Geography Professor

  • Unemployment and/or recession. I think people realized what a waste of money owning a car is and they became enlighten to the fact you don’t need a car to be a productive member of society – no matter what the tv says.

    Plus, spend that money locally. Also, I don’t think the added bike lanes hurt.

  • The increase in parking costs and citation fees!

    If you own a car and don’t move it from one side of the street to the other every 72 hours, the city tows your car and charges you $1000. You get punished for owning a car and not using it, so it’s easier/cheaper just not to own a car at all.

  • Nick

    The article failed to mention the definiton of “household.” Most would assume it means the same as a house or property owner.

    I remember from previous reports that there are 100,000 households in SF. This can be anything from an elderly person in an SRO to a family in a single-family home in the Sunset District. Given how many young apartment dwellers there are in SF, I would say that 30,000 carless living arrangements is an inaccurate description of success. It’s just more of the MTA screwing with data to provide the illusion of a transit-first city.

    If 30% of single family homes out in the neighbrhoods had no cars, that would deserve heaps of praise.

  • ZA

    From an entirely subjective point of view, my friends went car-free and bought some highly enviable bicycles, and still had plenty of $ to pocket by ending their car ownership. Otherwise, they manage with ZipCar & MUNI.

  • Kimberly Voisin

    I think that with the combination of excellent transit of services like City Carshare and Zip Car that owning a car in the city doesn’t make a lot of sense. Given the current economic situation I believe that people are recognizing that there are other better alternatives.

  • Al

    If there are 100,000 households in SF, that’s, what, an average of 8 people per household? Seems high.

    My family went from 2 cars to 1. Too much maintenance on the old clunker, not much use for it, and we joined city carshare (though no one’s had to use it yet).

  • EL

    Just out of curiosity, anyone notice that this article is based on 5 tenths of a percent (0.005)? While I don’t question the possibility of more households now living car-free compared to the previous year, what is the margin of error in the survey itself? Does it exceed 0.005?

  • Bob Davis

    I’m a San Franciscan “wannebe” who visits The City whenever I can. One thing’s for sure: If I drive in, the car stays at the motel until I’m ready to head for home (east of Los Angeles). If I come in by train, I don’t feel deprived by not having my own wheels. There have only been a few times, on unique occasions, where I drove in the city, all involving late night or early morning adventures. I can see where the “car share” system can be useful; from what I’ve read, it’s like being pre-registered for a rental car, so you have a temporary ride without traveling the the rental agency and plowing through the paper work at Hertz or Budget.

  • My 5-person household (only 2 have driver’s licenses) went car-free a year ago when we moved to a more central location much closer to my kids’ schools. The main motivation was to simplify our schedules (and lives ;). It didn’t hurt that no one used the car for daily routines anyway, and no one wanted to be in it! (Or deal with parking… ugh!) Saving $5000/year is just the icing on the cake. That may not sound like much, but after a few years it starts to add up to real money!

    The 4 guys in their twenties upstairs also have 0 cars… but the 3 anarchists downstairs have 2. Go figure!!

  • What does the city consider a “household”?

  • They are using Census data on the transportation fact sheet for household counts, so it uses the Census definition of household: “A household consists of all the people who occupy a housing unit. A house, an apartment or other group of rooms, or a single room, is regarded as a housing unit when it is occupied or intended for occupancy as separate living quarters; that is, when the occupants do not live and eat with any other persons in the structure and there is direct access from the outside or through a common hall.”

    They count 324,588 households in San Francisco. 100,000 seems more likely as the number of residential buildings, a large fraction of which house multiple households.

  • looks like the total number of registered cars went up by about 2,000 (if i’m reading those PDFs correctly) — that’s the number i’m most interested in.

    i’d like to see that number stop growing, and then start dropping, in spite of (and/or because of) continued population growth.

  • Wait a minute. Are we asking the wrong question here? The only significant change within the 2 year is the number of 3+ car house hold went up from 20,694 to 24,968. A increase of 20.5%! The is huge increase against the background increase in the number of household which is only 0.5%. The increase in no-car household is only 2% in comparison. None of the factors cited is relevant. Perhaps a more relevant factor is the federal stimulus on car purchases?

  • icarus12

    Car ownership stats will change much more slowly than rates of car trips per day. If you build viable alternatives, people with cars will walk, bike, and use transit more, but they will keep their cars for other hauling/long distance errands and longer distance pleasure or shopping outings.

    Going absolutely without a private automobile entails a huge shift in lifestyle and changes one’s daily experience. Having lived both ways in the city, I know that owning a car means I see ALL the city’s neighborhoods, enjoy the beaches and parks, and spend money way beyond my immediate neighborhood in ways I never did when I relied on public transit and my own legs to get me places.

    City Car Share and Zipcar help households avoid buying multiple cars and help some people give up private ownership. But I think we should be concentrating on the stats of car trips, not car ownership if we want to understand how people move about.

  • @icarus12, your are right. However it is very easy to compiled this data from DMV’s registration database. It is a lot harder to run a survey for number car trips people actually made.

  • “Having lived both ways in the city, I know that owning a car means I see ALL the city’s neighborhoods, enjoy the beaches and parks, and spend money way beyond my immediate neighborhood in ways I never did when I relied on public transit and my own legs to get me places.”

    On the other hand Icarus, I get around on my bike and on foot and know what’s going on in my neighborhood more than most. “Let’s check out that new pizza place on 24th”. “What new pizza place on 24th?” I see more and notice more, by a large margin.

  • I’m very glad the city publishes this fact sheet annually with roughly the same categories so that year to year comparisons are valid. However, I agree with Icarus12 above that we need to look at all trips mode share, not just car ownership and commute to work mode share, since commute trips are roughly only a quarter of all trips taken.

    Now, for some of the interesting tidbits in this report (and to clear up some misunderstandings people seem to have above.)

    1.) Population in San Francisco is increasing. Since the boundary of San Francisco has not budged, we are becoming an ever more dense city. Between 2009 and 2010 SF population went up by 6382 people. (Total SF pop is now 815,358. In 2000, it was 777,532.) Not only did our population go up, but it we are still losing children as a percentage. People over 18 years old were 85% of our population in 2009 and 86% in 2010. That means we’ve increased the percentage of our population mix likely to own a car.

    2) Even with our increased population and the higher percentage of folks over 18, we decreased the combined number of cars and trucks registered in the city from 441,656(2009) to 441,488(2010). (Cars went up, but trucks went DOWN.) So population up by 6382, number of over-18-year-olds up by 7236, number of households up by 1072, but number of cars+trucks down by 168. While it could be better, this, I think, is an achievement.

    3) The number of 3 vehicle households did go up, but I am wondering if this is not a measure of more adults living together? After all, even with the number of children shrinking, the average household size remained 2.5. Also, the census survey data is a bit strange in that the total # of vehicles reported available to households is so much lower than actual DMV vehicle registrations. (346,622 from the census survey versus 470,481 DMV registrations.)I don’t know what could cause such a discrepancy–maybe people not understanding the census question properly or perhaps people being unaware of how many vehicles are indeed registered to persons living in their household. Still, to be 36% off? The census data is based on a sample of 174,505 households in California, so statistically speaking it should be valid.

  • Gilla

    We went car free about 10 years ago when our car was stolen. Funds were tight at the time so we tried City Car Share for when we need go shopping and bike to work. Tens year later, we’re still car free.


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